|New Scientist magazine in 1981. Just|
eight years after Stop De Kindermoord,
the Dutch were already ahead and
considered to be worth emulating
|Still from a video produced in 1990|
about the Dutch Bicycle Masterplan
of 1989. In several languages, it was
intended to help planners and
campaigners elsewhere. Emphasis
It is true that the Stop de Kindermoord protests occurred forty years ago, but it is not true that it took forty years for the Netherlands to achieve a standard of infrastructure vastly ahead of what Britain has now.
In fact, in 1981, just eight years after those protests, an article appeared in New Scientist praising what had been achieved and suggesting that the UK should copy.
After another 9 years, just seventeen years in total after the Dutch "Stop child murder" protests, cycling infrastructure and policy in the Netherlands were of sufficient quality that it was worth making a film about it. There are several stills from the film in this post. Follow the link to view the film yourself.
|A mother cycling with very young|
children 23 years ago. These small
children are now adult.
Why so little progress in the UK ?
So what has happened and continues to happen in the UK ? Has the UK really had less time in which to achieve results, or is just that no real effort has been expended in cycling ? Why has progress been so slow that it can't be measured at all ? Where were the campaigners during all this time ? Have they not had time to respond to the lack of progress ?
|Dutch School Children with the freedom|
to cycle to school 23 years ago. They've
grown up and their children now cycle
to school. British children just got
training. Their children got yet more
training. It still hasn't resulted in
scenes like this.
But the Cambridge Cycling Campaign is, like many smaller groups, actually a relative newcomer to campaigning. London Cycling Campaign was founded in 1978. 35 years have passed since they began their campaign for London's cyclists.
|Parents of those Dutch children cycled|
to work. Many are now grandparents
who still cycle. Generations of Dutch
people have benefited.
This post was prompted by the text quoted in the first paragraph, written by someone who often speaks out on behalf of CTC. It's a common claim in the UK, and I'm not rounding on this individual, but CTC itself should know better. In cycling terms, CTC is an incredibly ancient organisation. Founded in 1878, they're one of the very oldest cycling organisations on the planet and have had a whopping 135 years in which to campaign for cyclists. That's eight times as long as it took to transform the Netherlands. Unlike the newer organisations, CTC has been there fighting for cyclists, for the entire post-second-world-war period over which cycling has declined.
Time is clearly not the issue. There has been plenty of time for Britain to have achieved all that the Dutch have, and more. Many people have worked very hard for cycling, they've given much of their time over many years, yet progress has not been made. Why ?
|New housing developments in the|
Netherlands were already designed
around the bike 23 years ago. When
will Britain make a start ?
Campaigners in Britain seem to suffer from several problems. They have shown themselves to have low aspirations, not daring to ask for the proven success of the Netherlands to be replicated but instead trying to find some alternative route to mass cycling.
Cambridge Cycling Campaign
I've noted before that the Cambridge Cycling Campaign does not hold the council to high enough standards. This has continued since this blog post was written with the group asking members to support a substandard proposal for roads in their city. Other local groups in other areas of the country have done likewise.
LCC still asks for second rate infrastructure in London. They've moved from one campaign to another, and the over-active marketing people have produced a vast pile of press releases along the way. In the PR world of LCC there are always more successes to celebrate, but what they're calling for is lacklustre. For access to the Olympic park in London, LCC requested infrastructure which is worse than that provided for an average Dutch town's small scale sporting facility. "Going Dutch" was accompanied by calls for Advanced Stop Lines and a bizarre requirement for cyclists to turn 270 degrees to the left in order to make a 90 degree right turn was approved of and boasted of by LCC.
For many years, Sustrans has been happy to rubber stamp infrastructure which is of far too low a quality and I've quite a lot of experience with the results. I've pointed out ten years ago that Sustrans routes are impractical because they're often far more indirect than roads to the same locations. In 2006 I had to brake for an underpass through which it was impossible to cycle and then was forced to take to the road because one of their paths proved to be dangerous. Others have also pointed out that Sustrans puts their name on routes which are simply not of a quality that one can cycle on them.
Sustrans continue not to understand how to make cycling useful for the majority of the population. Since writing this piece, Sustrans have blamed users of their paths for going "too fast". In fact, the conflict which was seen was a direct consequences of Sustrans' design - which mixes walking children with commuting cyclists on a narrow path. They then went on to rubber-stamp a dangerous roundabout design in Bedford which would mix cyclists with trucks on a turbo-roundabout, a junction design which is absolutely not suitable for cyclists even if they're very fast, and which would definitely not work for the independent 11 year olds that Sustrans usually claims to design for.
|Quote from 23 years ago: "Making cycling|
safer, for example by separating bicycle
traffic from car traffic". Why didn't Britain
start 23 years ago ? When will this
become official policy in the UK ?
The other fundamental problem has been the dogged adherence of "cyclists" in Britain to the ideology of riding on the road. This has led to CTC standing firmly in the way of Britain building the infrastructure which is required to grow cycling, while an increasing majority of the population see cycling as something alien to them. CTC has sadly long had difficulty with seeing the benefit of segregated cycling infrastructure. Bizarrely, they did approve of segregated motoring infrastructure in the form of motorways.
CTC's emphasis has largely been on training, though that's been proven not to increase cycling, and indeed the amount of cycling in the UK now is somewhat down from what it was when the CTC was at its greatest. CTC have also been active in approving of bad design including a roundabout in York and joining with Sustrans to approve the lethal Bedford roundabout design. They've leant their name to cheering about such things as small improvements in cycle parking.
There remains great pent-up demand for cycling. People gather at events at which they can cycle in safety. However outside of those events the public image of cycling in Britain is largely of an extreme sport that only "cyclists" take part in. Cyclists are viewed as being militant and angry outsiders. In part this is a result of cycle campaigning which has focused only on the needs of "cyclists" and therefore excluded other people from taking part.
|Targets for 2010 in the video from 1990|
These targets were (pretty much) met
What do we want ? Gradual change. When do we want it ? In due course !
Think what the target actually is. If you want cycling to grow from 1% of journeys to 27% of journeys and for cycling to be normal for everyone then it must be inclusive of everyone.
|Dutch railways stations already had|
enormous bicycle parks (though they
had to grow to keep up with demand)
This is why cycle campaigning needs to grow to be inclusive and not be focused on a tiny minority.
There is really only one place worth looking to in order to find the answers, and that is the one place where these things are already true: The Netherlands. Don't dilute demands by asking for what is unproven or by following examples from elsewhere which have achieved less. Ignore anything which was tried and abandoned in the Netherlands because there is no need to copy mistakes from here or elsewhere.
|Does this look like the result of|
successful policy in the UK ?
There is nothing magical about what happened in the Netherlands forty years ago. This country simply decided on sensible policies which were good for society and it has stuck with them ever since.
The claim has not always been "40 years"
I can remember when campaigners and officials in the UK claimed that the Netherlands was 20, 25, 30 and 35 years ahead. It's the same claim, but it is periodically for the ever longer period of time while no progress is made in Britain.
What does this mean precisely ? It makes no sense whatsoever to justify a a further delay in making cycling accessible to everyone in Britain just because, 20, 30, 40 or 50 years have already been wasted. Fifty years ? Well, if we don't start to jump on people who make this statement, as well as those who use the other excuses for inaction, we're still going to be hearing the same sad refrain in another ten years time.
Andrew Gilligan, London's Cycling Commissioner
The first comment below this blog post, written just a couple of minutes after it went public, pointed out that Andrew Gilligan, London's "Cycling Czar", said two days ago that "it took 40 years to turn even Amsterdam into Amsterdam" in a post which is a teaser for their "vision" which will be launched tomorrow. This is no more true for London vs. Amsterdam than Britain vs. the Netherlands as a whole. Everything above applies. Come on London, you need to aim much higher than you have before,
This is no accident
Being "forty years behind" is no accident. This didn't suddenly sneak up on people, it took forty years to happen. No, being "forty years behind" in cycling is the result of forty years of making deliberate choices not to build the infrastructure which is required to support cycling. It was enabled by forty years of campaigners not saying enough to stop it.
If you want to see for yourself how the infrastructure and policy have combined to get everyone to ride bikes in the Netherlands, there's a study tour in May on which we demonstrate almost everything featured in the many posts on this blog in just three days.
The chant in the title is Kate Fox's idea of what "a truly English protest march" would sound like. It comes from her book "Watching the English". I find it interesting that the 38 page long "Rules of the Road" section of her book goes to much effort to explain how wonderful British drivers are but doesn't actually mention cycling at all, even though it says in the introduction on the first page of this section that it will discuss cycling. That this mode of transport is practically invisible even to an anthropologist studying the English says something about how commonly people cycle in that country.
The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain can rest easy for now. They've only been going for about two years and that's only a quarter of the time that it took for the Netherlands to get to the point that journalists from New Scientist were impressed. But has a quarter of that progress been made in Great Britain in the last two years ?